7 May 2010

Thee all the mountains praise,

The rocks and glens are full of song to Thee;

They bid me join my lays

And laud the Almighty Rock,

Who safe from every shock

Beneath Thy shadow here dost shelter me.

I hear the waters rush

Far down beneath me in the hidden glen,

They break the quiet hush,

And quicken all my mind

With keen desire to find

The Fountain whence all gladness flows to men.

Unbegreiflich Gut, wahrer Gott alleine” Joachim Neander 1677, trans. Catherine Winkworth 1869

Joachim Neander, so the apocryphal tale goes, composed this ode to nature [spoiler alert: nature = God] in a cave overlooking the Düssel river.  He had just been relieved of his post as headmaster at the parochial school for radical activities–you know, preaching in the countryside, making unauthorized alterations to school buildings, skipping communion to avoid the unconverted, riling up the youth.  Neander sought refuge in the karst gorge known in his day as Das Gesteins, “The Rockiness”, turning grottoes into makeshift chapels and writing hymns inspired by the landscape around him.  The pastor eventually settled in Bremen, contracted tuberculosis, and died in 1680 only 30 years old.

By the 19th century locals were calling the valley Neandershöle (which, by the way, anyone want to start a black metal band with me?) and eventually Neanderthal and then by the deus ex lexica of “Orthographic Reform” Neandertal.

In 1856 another teacher in the valley Johann Karl Fuhlrott was called by quarry workers that had cut into a cave.  Within the cave they had found bones, which they took to be bear bones.

Carl Zimmer  picks up the story from there.

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